Today Louisiana State University students and supporters will be marching on our Capitol to protest the beyond draconian cuts being proposed for Louisiana higher education.
As R. Kyle Alagood stated in the Huffington Post on Monday, LSU has made contingency plans for several budget cut scenarios, and despite F. King Alexander’s walking away from his statements, those plans include possible exigency. We know this because Alagood filed an FOIA request for the 35% cut scenario, which was the plan that LSU likely filed in response to the Louisiana Board of Regents earlier this year. And as he revealed to me on Twitter, LSU complied… via their attorney. He also requested the 82% scenario.
These official plans, obtained from LSU, show that the system projects that four entire LSU institutions would file institutional exigency, and LSU’s main campus would file partial exigency for individual programs. This is the 35% scenario that was floated earlier in the year back when the Jindal administration indirectly insinuated that there would be anywhere from $200 – $400 million in higher ed cuts in this budget. Officially it is now $608 million (or more, because the budget deficit is now really $1.8 billion according to Treasurer John Kennedy).
Alexander and LSU’s administration can try to walk away from this to save their reputation and their fall enrollment, but the fact of the matter is that if at 35% LSU was already projecting that they would have to file partial exigency, much more than that what other choices does it have? And at 82%?
Truly frightening. I stated in my last post that it would lead to a multi-institutional collapse of our entire higher education system, unless the legislature allows us this session to raise tuition to the point where so many students can’t afford to go to school to make up the difference. Then it would lead to a less immediate, but just as inevitable selective multi-institutional collapse of our higher education system due to enrollment decreases.
Either way, it’s bad. It’s worse than bad. It’s unprecedented in the history of higher education. And I’m not backing away from this one. For me, if I’m found out and then given a choice to back off or leave my job, I’m leaving my job. No. Question.
So, Tigers (and the rest of us), what can you do?
It has to be more than a demonstration at the Capitol. Several groups and institutions have already gathered on the Capitol steps. But if the leges have already made a deal among themselves, or are scrambling for answers, but not really listening to or caring about students, then all the demonstrations in the world won’t matter. Southeastern’s Prof. Dayne Sherman in one of his recent blog posts said as much. A demonstration gets media attention and also helps organize groups that can effect change. I will be so happy if the 1,700 demonstrators or more gather at the Capitol. But if it ends when you go back to your homes and dorms, and the tasteful signs sit in a corner, and then you wait to see what happens, then nothing will.
Register to vote. And galvanize voters to speak out. Start with your parents and family members. All our legislators are up for reelection this year. There are several very powerful groups that have “legislative report cards” based on “legislative questionnaires.” This is something that a student group and voting advocates can do now. Start with your parents or whomever is paying your tuition. Lawmakers might not listen to you but whether “home” is Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Lafayette, New Orleans, the Northshore or wherever, they will listen to your parents who vote if you can get enough of them to do this. Or if you are a voter, do it yourself too. Have them call and email your local legislators to the point where you blow up their phones. (Trick to do this – take their first initial and put it before their last names instead of after like you find in the official directory. This will go directly to them and not to their staff.) Your parents love Facebook. That’s where old fogies like me who vote are. Tell your parents to go nuts on Facebook. Create a legislative agenda, and as Prof. Sherman said, grade them an F and post it on social media – meaning old fogie Facebook.
Find people who know how to protest effectively and learn from them
One of the things I’ve noticed in my years here is that in Louisiana we have no clue how to protest. Dayne Sherman said on his blog is that there are “24 lonely professors” (and one lonely staff person here) who have been yelling fire for 7 years, but because the fire wasn’t “that bad” no one listened. Barely a whimper. Well, the fire is about to your house now and is going to burn it down to the slab. Don’t listen to professors and administrators who say it will be “just fine.” But you may know of people who have “reputations” for activism. There are still a few people floating around who were active in the Civil Rights Movement, for starters. Look for people who have actually helped make change, not just loudmouths. Go seek them out now, get their advice now, and put it into action now. The semester is about over and it will soon be too late. Don’t look to them to do all the legwork because it obviously hasn’t been enough. But certainly seek them out and learn from them. And check out this free book that Prof. Sherman linked from his blog especially if you can’t get strategies from flesh and blood people.
Don’t count on negotiations. There is one short-term goal – no cuts for higher education this session. And one longer-term goal – a commitment to reinvesting state funds in higher education.
A 35% cut instead of 82% is not a victory. A 10% cut instead of 82% is not a victory. It is caving. Don’t let anyone else tell you any differently. Louisiana higher education has been cut more than in any other state by far for 7 years. Any additional cuts will have disastrous impacts on your campus and on your education because of the cuts we have already sustained. Do not back down in your message, and do not give up if it looks like the cuts won’t be “that bad.” That’s part of the strategy. When the message on the other side is “82% cuts!” and then negotiations bring it to a 35% cut, then it looks like a victory on the leges side. But it is a big loss to you. Potentially huge. It means that your institution might still file exigency, your program might still be cut, your professors might still be let go, and your classes might still be canceled. No cuts for higher education this year. Period.
And… Geaux Tigers!